Junglie Sea Kings from the Commando Helicopter Force working alongside Fleet Air Arm Merlin and Airborne Surveillance and Control Sea King (Baggers) helicopters have just completed the first phase of the `Cougar 12’ Response Force Task Group (RFTG) deployment.
Leaving behind the coast of Cornwall and Plymouth Sound, the RFTG is now sailing South toward Gibraltar and the Mediterranean, where the Royal Navy Warships, Royal Marines Commandos and Naval Airpower, which make up the RFTG, will train alongside French and Albanian maritime forces. CHF Sea Kings from 845 and 846 Naval Air Squadrons will be providing vital troop lift for the Commandos in addition to an under-slung load capability throughout the deployment.
A Tailored Air Group (TAG) comprising Apache Attack helicopters from the Army’s 656 Sqn, Naval Merlin’s from 814 NAS, Airborne Surveillance and Control Sea Kings from 854 NAS and the Yeovilton based Commando Sea Kings, are embarked on the Helicopter and Commando Carrier HMS Illustrious. RAF Chinooks will also join the force at a later stage of the deployment.
In addition to the helicopters, CHF are also providing command and control through the Joint Helicopter Force Contingency Headquarters, (JHF-C), which has been stood up to provide a unique capability for controlling JHC battlefield helicopter assets at high readiness and earmarked for contingency as part of the RFTG. This forward deployable force headquarters element is working closely with 3 Commando Brigade HQ and the Lead Cdo group, 45 Commando RM. “The JHF-C is ideally suited to this environment”.
Said Major Jon Parry RM; JHF-C Operations Officer. “We’ve deployed this HQ for Ex Cold Response in Norway and Ex Joint Warrior earlier this year and the results have proved that CHF are able to provide the right expertise and aviation support to both 3 Cdo Brigade RM, and 16 Air Assault Brigade across the globe. ”
The Junglies are relishing the opportunity to get back to their primary role supporting Amphibious based Commando Carrier deployments after consecutive Operations in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade.
Lieutenant Colonel Del Stafford RM, the Commanding Officer of the JHF-C, is pleased with the way both the CHF and other JHC elements have started the deployment.
“We were able to get all the CHF aircrew through a deck landing training package prior to leaving UK waters and now we are busy planning for the next Phase of the deployment in the Mediterranean. The RFTG is a great vehicle through which to demonstrate the versatility, mobility and interoperability of the RN, and gives us exactly the right environment to refresh our amphibious skills, both onboard shipping, and during the land phases with the French and Albanians”.
Commando Helicopter Force
Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) consists of 4 Naval Air squadrons and a Combat Service Support Squadron, integrated under the command of an HQ, established to operate helicopters afloat or ashore in support of the UK armed forces. It is a combined Royal Navy and Royal Marine force that flies Sea King and Lynx helicopters that specializes in amphibious warfare
The pilots are special, as they combine commando combat and survival skills with edge-of-the-seat flying. They operate Sea King and Lynx helicopters in extreme climates and conditions and their ability to work in terrain ranging from arctic to tropical jungle is second to none. Operations in Borneo in the 1960s earned them the moniker ‘Junglies’ from the troops on the ground, which current and veteran Junglies covet to this day.
The Junglies are recruited from the cream of the Royal Navy’s aviators – they arrive having already mastered basic helicopter skills. But to become a Jungly they must excel. Around 10% of trainees will not make it through the course, either because they are not good enough, or because they cannot take the intense psychological pressure and physical challenges. Flying helicopters in the Armed Services is a dangerous way to earn a living. Add combat to the mix, and you can see why the Junglies are among Britain’s elite.
For further information please contact Lt Cdr Rob Stephens RN 01935 454029 firstname.lastname@example.org
WHILE HMS Ocean was guarding London during the Olympics, the Navy Campaign was given an exclusive peak at the Lynx of 815 Squadron on board.
Having heard the helicopters overhead many times as they undertook their daily patrols, we were keen to get up close and have a look at them taking off and landing.
So our host very kindly arranged for us to be on the flight deck when the Lynx helicopter took off for its morning patrol.
We met him at Greenwich Pier in time to catch the 0915 boat to the ship.
As we hopped aboard, some enthusiastic members of the ship’s company were heading ashore, kitted out with lycra and bicycles.
The Lynx patrol was scheduled for mid-morning, so we had time to pick up some official looking ear defenders and to have a look at the flight deck.
HMS Ocean has six ‘spots’ or landing areas that can be used by aircraft 24 hours a day.
There is an extra spot at the bow that can only be used during daylight hours due to the dangers involved in landing a helicopter at night, at sea, in a small space.
More on this shortly.
Boldly, Faithfully, Happily
A beauty to behold, HMS Ocean has seen her fair share of action.
Commissioned in 1998, she helped out in Honduras in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and then served in Sierra Leone in 2000 as part of Operation Palliser alongside HMS Illustrious.
She was also involved in Operation Telic, when she launched Royal Marines and Royal Navy Sea Kings (845 Squadron), Gazelle and Lynx (847 Squadron) as part of the initial invasion force onto the Al Faw peninsular in 2003.
Cougar to Ellamy
In April 2011, against the backdrop of the Arab Spring, HMS Ocean took part in a long-planned multinational amphibious training exercise in the Mediterranean named Exercise Cougar along with other ships of the Response Force Task Group (RFTG).
With Royal Marines, Royal Navy Sea King and Lynx and Army Air Corps Apache embarked, she set sail for Cyprus.
The following month, HMS Ocean was redeployed to take part in Operation Ellamy off the coast of Libya.
Three thousand miles from home, the ship brought onboard additional supplies and ammunition and changed the structure of the air group, offloading the Sea King 4 troop carrying helicopters and bringing on board more Army Air Corps (AAC) Apache from the maritime specialist 661 Squadron as well as Royal Navy Sea King Airborne Surveillance and Control helicopters (SKASaC).
This squadron was specially trained in maritime operations and their embarkation was the culmination of many years of work, making sure the aircrew could integrate safely with the ship.
Steaming toward the Libyan coast, HMS Ocean’s crew worked through the final preparations needed to take them to a combat role.
The ship then spent much of her deployment operating 10 to 15 miles off the coast.
Being just over the horizon offered added security to her crew, while keeping the flight time from deck to target for the various helicopters to a minimum. It also allowed the ship to roam up and down the coast often striking different places on successive nights, keeping the initiative on the side of HMS OCEAN.
Due to their low operating level, the Apaches flights over Libyan air space were kept to night flights, as the darkness afforded them an extra layer of protection.
In order to reduce the risk to the ship, HMS Ocean would often be fully dark.
This means all external lights on the ship would be off and the air crew would have to navigate their way back by radar alone.
Radio communication was kept to an absolute minimum, adding an extra layer of complexity to these night flights.
Here’s a pretty cool video of some of that night flying –
In addition to the Lynx and Apache, there were also two Sea King Airborne Surveillance and Control helicopters on board.
Known as SKASaC helicopters, their capability is completely unique to the Royal Navy.
No other platform is capable of detecting and monitoring activity against a backdrop of land, sea and air.
Between them, the two Sea Kings embarked for Op Ellamy flew 99 sorties whilst the Apaches undertook 44 missions.
As Operation Ellamy drew to a close in September, HMS Ocean reconfigured her personnel and air group once again and sailed east of Suez prepared for contingency tasking as required by the politicians.
Operating in the late summer heat of the Middle East, parts of the ship got unbearably hot and temperatures in the Comms Room regularly reached 50ºC.
After just over three two months in the Arabian Sea HMS Ocean set sail for home.
What had initially started as a seven week training exercise had turned into a deployment lasting 229days – or seven months. Of these 229 days, 176 were spent at sea and the ship steamed some 40,000 miles.
In that time, members of the crew had been flown home for five weddings and 11 births.
Not surprising then that when HMS Ocean arrived home to Plymouth on December 9th, it was a very emotional homecoming.
The video made by the ship’s Air Department over two days of their homeward journey is now infamous and drew well deserved attention to their long deployment.
Mariah Carey herself gave them the seal of approval, when she tweeted at them
“This is the best thing I’ve ever seen, you guys just made my day! Happy Happy Christmas!!! x0x0 to the troops.”
On Christmas leave, HMS Ocean was informed she would be taking part in Operation Olympics.
In May, she arrived in London for a live training exercise to prepare for the Olympics.
Over the course of the Olympics, HMS Ocean has taken on several key roles:
Support to Operation Olympics
The helicopters from the Army Air Corps (AAC) and the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) complete with snipers, provided 24 hour air support.
Support to the Met Police and Royal Marines
Lynx from the FAA and snipers also provided aerial support to the Met and Royal Marines conducting patrols on the Thames and around the various Olympic venues.
HMS Ocean has her very own RM Assault Squadron, 9ASRM, as well as four Mk5 landing craft vehicle and personnel (LCVP).
Along with the various boats belonging to 539ASRM, these landing craft have become a familiar yet unexpected sight on the Thames over the past few weeks!
HMS Ocean also accommodated, as was always planned, some 430 military personnel providing security at Greenwich Park, which gave them a very short commute!
The numbers living onboard the ship grew from its normal size of about 400 personnel to around 970, just shy of its maximum capacity of 1119 people.
The Lynx Effect
During her stay in Greenwich for the Olympics the helicopters based on HMS Ocean completed many, many patrol flights.
It was one of these that we wanted to see.
The deck had been swept earlier in the day to clear it of debris that could be whipped about in the down draft of the helicopters.
Standing in a line that spanned the deck, Flight Deck crew conducted a FOD (Foreign Object Debris) sweep of the Flight Deck.
This involved slowly walking down the length of the ship, checking for anything that may have been missed in the sweep.
As we watched, the Lynx Maintainers prepared the aircraft, kick starting her engine by plugging her in to a ground power unit.
The pilot and observer completed last minute checks of the helicopter, as the Royal Marines snipers settled in the back.
A Naval Airman stood by with an extinguisher in case he’s needed, as the pilot powered up the rotor blades.
Once he was no longer needed by the aircraft, the fire safety officer moved to the side of the deck, out of the way of proceedings.
At this point, the deck was clear except for the now thundering helicopter and Leading Airman Tilsley, the Aircraft Marshaller.
Under the guidance of his arm movements, the helicopter slowly lifted off from the deck.
At his signal, the Lynx moved out of the vertical hover, over the edge of the ship and was then off to patrol the area.
The helicopters routinely travel as far west as Kew Bridge and as far east as Southend.
It takes less than 5 minutes for the aircraft to be off the deck and in the air.
With a top speed of 144mph, the Lynx can be anywhere in London within six minutes of take off.
About an hour after she whizzed off to patrol London’s airspace, the Lynx was buzzing back towards the ship.
We watched as she was waved in and powered down, once again in awe of the roar of her engines.
After that excitement, we made our way through the ship, with a quick peak in a couple of cabins below decks.
Then it was time to hop on a boat back to Greenwich Pier and back to the hustle and bustle of the Olympic city.
Now HMS Ocean has finished her Olympic duty, she has returned to Devonport for refit and her crew has headed off to different jobs around the Navy.
More than 3,000 sailors and Marines are gearing up for a three-month training deployment to the Mediterranean – this year’s key workout of the UK’s high-readiness task force.
For Exercise Cougar 12 Royal Naval warships, Royal Marine commandos and naval airpower, which make up the Response Force Task Group, will train with the French and Albanians.
The RFTG was created under the 2010 defence review and is a rapid reaction force that deals with unexpected world events that require military intervention.
Cougar 12 will start in spectacular style with a beach assault by the Royal Marines in the South West from October 1-9 before the entire force meets up in the Med later in the month.
As part of the exercise four warships, one amphibious support ship, a giant transport ship, three commando units and helicopters and personnel from eight Fleet Air Arm, RAF and Army Air Corps squadrons are committed to the three-month deployment – in all more than 3,000 sailors, Royal Marines, soldiers and airmen.
They will take part in two large-scale exercises, interspersed with various smaller exercises and training and goodwill visits – in some cases to places which rarely see the White Ensign.
The deployment will be the second test for the RFTG which was called upon in anger last year to support operations off Libya: HMS Ocean launched repeated Apache gunships strikes from her flight deck while HMS Liverpool spent seven months enforcing the no-fly zone and preventing arms from reaching pro-Gaddafi forces by sea.
Twelve months on and Portsmouth-based HMS Illustrious will be taking Ocean’s place as the helicopter carrier assigned to the task group.
She’ll be joined by the nation’s flagship HMS Bulwark, from where Commodore Paddy McAlpine, Commander UK Task Group, and 3 Commando Brigade’s Brigadier Martin Smith will direct Cougar.
They will oversee two key exercises: Corsican Lion, working hand-in-hand with the French, and later this autumn the force will shift to the Adriatic to work with the Albanian military.
Corsican Lion, which devours the second half of October, sees the Cougar force link up with France’s flagship and aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle – the most powerful surface ship in western European waters.
Her flight deck will be the launchpad for Super Étendard and Rafale jets, offering a first real glimpse of how the Response Force Task Group should look at the end of the decade when HMS Queen Elizabeth enters service with the Royal Navy.
And in the nearer future, Corsican Lion is the most important strand of Cougar and a major step along the road towards forging a fully-operational Anglo-French force by 2016.
There will be planned exercises with the US and Algerian forces and visits to Algeria and Malta – particularly poignant for Illustrious as she has ties with the island going back to her predecessor and the dark days of World War 2.
“Cougar 12 provides us with a superb opportunity to rekindle our amphibious capability after a prolonged period when our focus has been on operations elsewhere,” said Cdre McAlpine.
His force stands at five days’ notice to deploy anywhere in the world should the government require it; in theory the task group can poise off the coast of 147 nations – three out of four countries in the world.
Participants in Cougar 12 are:
RFA Mounts Bay
MV Hartland Point
Headquarters of 3 Commando Brigade
45 Commando (currently the UK’s on-call Royal Marines unit ready to respond to world events)
30 Commando IX Group
539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines
814 Naval Air Squadron (Merlins)
815 Naval Air Squadron (Lynx)
829 Naval Air Squadron (Merlins)
845 Naval Air Squadron (Commando-carrying Sea Kings)
846 Naval Air Squadron (Commando-carrying Sea Kings)
854 Naval Air Squadron (airborne surveillance and control Sea Kings)